Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage – The 1956-61 Dodge D-500

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Welcome to the Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage, a regular feature which aims to expand the notion of what a muscle car is, and to try to have some fun in the process. 1956 saw the advent of some true performance bargains. Powerful V8s were no longer exclusive to the expensive cars such as Buick, Cadillac, or Chrysler. They were now showing up in everything from Ramblers to Chevrolets. Not to be left out, the Dodge division of Chrysler had an ace up its sleeve, and unlike the Chrysler 300 Series, or the newly introduced Plymouth Fury, you could get the most powerful engine available in a Dodge for almost every body style. Introducing the Dodge D-500.

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The 1956 D-500 was a high-performance model derived from the standard 1956 Dodge but differing in many ways. It included a heavy duty suspension and other chassis upgrades from the New Yorker and Imperial lines, upgraded brakes, and a high-performance 315 cu in Hemi-head V8. A four-barrel Carter carburetor pushed output to 260 hp and 330 ft lb of torque. The 3-speed manual transmission was standard, with the PowerFlite 2-speed automatic as an option. A rare NASCAR-specific option was the D-550-1, which upped power to 285 hp. The D-500 originally used only the Coronet 2-door sedan and Royal Lancer hardtop and convertible bodies, but later on, you could specify the option package for any body style in the Dodge catalog.

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The hemi was officially (and clumsily) called the “super-powered Super Red Ram,” but soon became known simply as the “D-500″ option. There were larger valves, mechanical lifters, reprofiled camshaft, and higher compression (9.25:1) to give it the claimed 260 horses, close to double the maximum power Dodge had offered just two years before. Dodge’s mild 1956 face-lift (of the 1955 Body) brought higher, finned rear fenders to all models, which now included V-8 Lancer four-door hardtops in each series, which could be optioned as a D-500. As on other Chrysler makes, control of the optional Powerflite automatic changed from the chromed corporate dashboard wand of 1955 to the soon-to-be-infamous pushbuttons.

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The 1957-1959 Dodge D-500 was a continuation of Dodge’s high-performance package in the late 1950s, with a choice of conventional carburetor or fuel injection. Top horsepower of these vehicles ranged from 333-345, usually with two four-barrel carbs, but in 1958 the top 333-bhp rating came via fuel injection, which was quickly withdrawn because it proved so troublesome. By 1959, Chrysler dropped the famous (or infamous as might be said) Hemi Head engines in favor of a “Wedge Head”, but still producd ground pounding horsepower. These cars were extremely fast, and could be quite colorful, too, but some feel they’re less distinctive than the 1956 D-500. They’re also comparatively scarcer, however.

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In 1960 The consumer could choose a D-500 Ram Induction high-performance engine on their new Dodge at extra cost. This eight-cylinder engine had an overhead valve, 90-degree V-type, ram induction manifold and a combustion chamber that was wedge-shaped. The compression ratio was 10:1 with a bore of 4.25 inches and a stroke of 3.38 inches. The engine had a piston displacement of 383 cubic inches. Also, there was a full-flow oil filter, dual exhausts, and two four-barrel carburetors with a horsepower rating of 330 at 4800 RPM and torque of 460 pounds at 2800 RPM.

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By 1961, the D-500 package was in it’s last year, continuing on with the horsepower ratings from 1960, in a uniquely styled body. Because of the new style, Dodge actually lost market share, going from 6th place in the industry for 1960, to 9th in 1961. And if the Dodge boys thought 1961 was bad, it was about to get worse for 1962. But we won’t be covering these smaller dodges yet.

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Here is Paul Garlick’s Dodge D-500, originally built for the Mexican Market. It took a 1961 Plymouth front clip, and mated it to a 1961 Dodge Polara body, and this thing is loaded with A/C, Record Player, wire wheels, and if you get a chance to read the attachment, make sure you take a look at the engine compartment.

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There you have it, a prequel to the muscle cars that were soon to be introduced in the 1960′s. Is this “Forward Look” Dodge an Obscure Muscle Car, and does it belong in the garage, or is it just another 50′s showboat, with a lot of dazzling chrome, and multi-colored paint, and is only good for cruising around in? As always, I look forward to your comments.

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Please Note: All Images are screen grabs from around the web. If you want credit for any image, please let me know in the comments section. Thank You!

16 Comments

  1. It might be worth mentioning the fuel injection in 1958 was ELECTRONIC Fuel Injection, unlike GM and others mechanical fuel injection systems. That's the main reason it didn't make it. 1958 electronics, at least the Bendix system, weren't quite up to controlling a fuel injection system.

    1. IIRC, the Bendix was also the first attempt at a commercial electronic fuel injection system. It was tested on V8 Rambler Rebels as well, but those are probably even more rare. It would take 10 more years of transistor and IC development to get something that could work as well as a carburetor.

      1. So far as is known, there remains but one 1958 Chrysler vehicle with the Bendix EFI. It's a Desoto Adventurer.
        All vehicles with the '58 EFI were subject to a factory recall that saw them receive a pair of 4 barrel carbs and a dual quad intake.
        Not at all unlike the '83 Chrysler Imperial with a 318/EFI combo – the EFI system was also subject to a blanket recall in favor of replacement with a standard 4 barrel carb.

  2. In 1956, my grandfather ordered a brand new 4 door Lancer with a Super Red Ram. He owned the gas station/garage in our small town and was a hot rodder, but also had a family so hence the 4 door. My dad and uncles have said that with Grandpa's tuning, it was the fastest car in the county, until finally losing a race to a kid with a new '61 409 Impala. Pretty impressive for a regular ol' Dodge sedan.

  3. Dodges and Desotos of the late 50's had the coolest and most exteme fins in the world. People with "taste" made fun of them back in the day, but compared to the bland styling of today they were fantastic examples of what could be.

  4. Dodge is one my favorite cars after Ferrari. I really like this classical one. It may designed during 1956 but it has the look like a King car. Very stylist though!! Thanks for these pictures.

  5. I had a 1958 Dodge D500 hardtop same colors as the convert. at the top of this post. Mine was a wedge with two fours. Never was sure if it was a 350" like the Fury or a 361" or 383". Can anyone confirm what size it may have been? It must have been geared tall because it was slow accelerating but sure would top end. Once saw 4600 RPM but it ran out of speedometer around 42-4300 RPM.

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